Just when you think journalists have milked a presidential candidate dry of any personal trait or tick from their past that might be useful for understanding the woman or man, something else emerges—a long forgotten college thesis, a strange high school friend, a summer spent in another country. And with the election season so long, reporters must really get very desperate for something—anything—to help further illuminate the man who might be king (or, ahem, the woman who might be queen). Which brings us to today’s story in the New York Times about Barack Obama’s love for pickup basketball.
It’s not silly, on its face, to write about a candidate’s chosen sport. That’s fine and it does offer a kind of insight. Absolutely. The absurdity arrives when the sport is told to lie down on a leather couch and becomes an all-purpose analytical tool for understanding the candidate. Witness Jodi Kantor today using basketball to understand Obama: the sport was his “tutorial in race,” it provided “comfort to a boy whose father was mostly absent,” and, just as in his political life, when he plays he is “fiercely competitive, and makes up for his deficits with collaboration and strategy.” She goes on at length about how it is not just a sport Obama plays on the court but an exercise in democracy. It’s not the chance to sweat that he appreciates but, rather, “the democratic nature of basketball.”
Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.
Can’t wait to read about Hillary’s love of ping-pong.